Jim Feely is as free as a bird. He can fly like an eagle whenever he has the urge.

Feely is hooked on hang gliding and he drives from his Springfield home every Fourth of July holiday weekend to soar during the annual Festival of Free Flight in Lakeview.

“It’s really bitchin’ when you get on top of a hill and the wind is blowing and the wing is on your shoulders,” says Feely, 58. “You put one foot in front of the other. Suddenly you’re in the air.  You hook a thermal and ... oh, man.

“I just go up and have a good time for an hour. It puts a big smile on my face.”

Lakeview is famous for thermals, columns of rising air that are perfect for hang gliding. That’s why more than 75 hang gliders and paragliders are expected to take part in the Festival of Free Flight on July 6-7 in Lakeview.

Registration opens on July 4. For more information, contact the Lake County Chamber of Commerce -

“We’ve had as many as 250 people in the past,” says local chamber of commerce director Audrey Henry.  “People come from as far as Australia and South Africa to hang glide here. Hang glider guys are like surfer dudes. They just want to play.”

Feely doesn’t argue that point.  “I can’t help it,” he says. “I’m hooked.”